Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dr. Watson, I Presume

Sherlock Holmes
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams
Released: 12/25/09
Viewed in theaters: 12/26/09

Oscar nominations:
Best Score - Hans Zimmer
Best Art Direction

Would you believe me if I told you I have never read a Sherlock Holmes book, much less ever seen one? Of course I know who he is as he is everywhere in pop culture. Everybody has heard of Sherlock Holmes, the world's most-renowned detective.

I went into this movie expecting it to be boring and dry, but was pleasantly surprised. The movie may be a little long with a two and a half hour running time, but there are plenty of action and suspense scenes to move it along smoothly. This was the first Ritchie movie I've ever seen and he has a very stylized way of directing. Normally, I find too much slow-motion (such as the scene in the boxing ring) to be distracting and gratuitous, but he does it in a clever way where it works as part of the story. His view of Sherlock Holmes is a little different from the traditional Holmes we're used to; I'm pretty sure the original Holmes wasn't an action figure, but in Ritchie's vision, it works.

If there's any actor who should win Comeback of the Decade, it's Robert Downey Jr. Despite winning a Golden Globe for his work on Ally McBeal in 2001, he veered off track, but managed to make an impressive comeback in the latter half of this decade with Iron Man (and a sequel), an Oscar nomination for Tropic Thunder (and remember, comedic performances are hardly ever noticed by the Academy), and now Sherlock Holmes (which inevitably has a sequel in the works).

Jude Law plays his sidekick, John Watson, and well, let's just say Downey has more chemistry with him than he has with Rachel McAdams who plays the only person who has ever outsmarted Sherlock. I can't even remember her name because she's barely in the movie and the character is very unwritten. I like McAdams as an actress (who doesn't love Regina George, after all?), but I didn't quite feel she was right for this role.

This is a fun movie with (mostly) great performances and the background of old England is stunning.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Alternate Endings

Warning: major spoilers for the film and book!

My Sister's Keeper
Director: Nick Cassavettes
Cast: Abigail Breslin, Cameron Diaz, Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack
Released: 6/26/09

I had pretty low expectations while watching this, knowing that the book is always better than the movie, at least 90% of the time. The film wasn't horrible, but it definitely had flaws. A lot of them. It seemed more like a made-for-TV (perhaps Lifetime? Of course, many of Picoult's books seem like they would fit in perfectly with Lifetime's lineup.

As you probably already know, this movie is based on Jodi Picoult's best-selling novel of the same name about a young girl named Anna (played by Breslin) who sues her parents for the rights to her own body because she was genetically conceived to have the same blood type as her older sister, Kate, who is ridden with cancer. I read it three and a half years ago and it was one of those can't-put-down books. The problem with the movie is the way they translated it to the big screen didn't quite work. If you've read the book, you may remember that different characters alternate telling the story in their POV with each chapter. There's random voice overs from the different characters that just seem out of place. One second, two characters are talking to each other, then the next you hear a voice over from one of the characters. Very distracting. The film is very manipulative and the director tries way to hard beating the audience over the head with his "okay, you're supposed to cry now because this is sad, damnit!" scenes. And every other scene involves a sappy, melancholy song set to the characters in slo-mo whether they're playing at a beach or blowing bubbles while jumping on a trampoline. After a while, you start to roll your eyes.

Baldwin plays the lawyer Breslin hires and he plays his character exactly the same way he plays Jack Donaghy that I kept preparing for a punch line. Diaz plays the mother and she is a shrill little harpy in this movie, but I suppose her character has good reason to be so upset.

But those little flaws aside, the film does follow the novel pretty faithfully...until the end. And here's where the major spoiler comes in place, so stop reading if you've never read the book and don't want to be spoiled, don't read the next paragraph...

In the book, there is a huge twist and Anna dies in a car accident and her kidney is given to her sister who goes on to live a relatively normal and healthy life. There's a scene in the movie where Anna and Kate are talking about heaven and I was thinking, "Aha! Foreshadowing! Everybody thinks it's going to be Kate, but it's really Anna!" Turns out I was the wrong one. In the film, that never happens and Kate dies, as one would expect someone that sick with cancer to do. I'm not sure why they changed the ending (perhaps too lazy?), but it is a little funny that the more preposterous ending is from the book. Hollywood loves those kinds of crazy twist endings, so you think it would eat that up.

If you've never read the book, you might enjoy the movie (if you can stand really cheesy scenes), but I would recommend the book before the film.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Very Long Review

Um spoilers...and please ignore how crappy this looks (especially towards the end)! I have not mastered Blogspot yet; why can't it be simple to use like LiveJournal?

Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger
Released: 6/23/89

Oscar nominations:
Best Art Direction (won)

Batman Forever
Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman, Chris O'Donnell
Released: 6/16/95
Viewed in theaters: 6-7/?/95

Oscar nominations:
Best Cinematography (lost to Braveheart)
Best Sound (lost to Apollo 13)
Best Sound Effects (lost to Braveheart)

The Dark Knight
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman
Released: 7/18/08
Viewed in theaters: 7/20/08 (Um, my first viewing)

Oscar nominations:
Best Supporting Actor - Heath Ledger (won)
Best Sound Editing (won)
Best Art Direction (lost to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Cinematography (lost to Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Editing (lost to Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Makeup (lost to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Visual Effects (lost to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Sound (lost to Slumdog Millionaire)

As you can see, I watched three different Batman films. Three different decades, three different directors, three different Batmans (sorry, Clooney, you didn't make the cut - there's no way you can make me watch that dreck!) Now I should preface this by saying that I'm not a Batman fan in the least; I know nothing when it comes to the world of Batman. In fact, for the longest time, I had no idea he was referred to as the Dark Knight. When I first heard of Nolan's title, I thought he was the one who came up with it (I'm being serious, people) and thought it was a catchy title and could totally see Batman being called the Dark Knight. Little did I know... Actually, they refer to him as the Dark Knight twice in Batman Forever, but I didn't remember that since it's been at least ten years since I've seen that movie. I also didn't know that Harvey Dent and Two Face were the same person. I remember Eckhart doing press before TDK was released and didn't understand why all the interviewers kept bringing up the character of Two Face and then I put two and two together. Aha!
So in this review I'm going to compare and contrast the different elements of these three movies. I totally won't discriminate - oh, who am I kidding? I so have a clear favorite and you might be surprised by which one it is. Or not. Probably not.

Director: Burton v. Schumacher v. Nolan
All three movies are very different in style. Burton's has a certain athestic where you definitely feel like you're watching one of his films. There's a very gritty and almost nostalgic feel to '89. It kind of reminds me of an old mafia movie, especially with the way the men dress: trenchcoats, bowties, vests, fedoras. Watching it is almost the equivalent of watching a comic book come to life.
Then there's Schumacher who took over when Burton's movies were deemed too dark. (While I didn't find '89 scary, Batman Returns is pretty twisted and dark). Forever is a flashy summer blockbuster. It's almost like watching a live-action cartoon. Most of the characters are caricatures with over the top performances and it's clear Schumacher chose the actors based on their attractiveness or popularity at the time. Watching this is like eating a bag filled with fun-sized candy bars: enjoyable at first, but the more you have, you start to get sick of it and want to stop and make it go away. It gets very tiring very fast.
Nolan's version is the most realistic and I mean this as a compliment when I say it's like I wasn't even watching a Batman movie (except when Bale showed up in costume). All the characters felt real, not as though they were taken from Saturday morning cartoons and there was no dialogue that sounded like it came from a balloon bubble. It's insane how well this movie did. Look at it this way: according to IMDb.com, it made more money in the first six days of its release than Batman Begins made in its ENTIRE run. As Brian Fellows would say, That's crazy! Oh yeah, you should know Begins made $205 million. Crazy! (By the way, TDK made over a billion dollars around the world).


Obviously, the look and feel of the Batman's hometown differs in all three films. There's a very 1930s New York vibe to it in '89. It doesn't look like a place I'd visit because of its dark and gritty appearance. I read a review that said the exterior shots of the city looks like "a diagram of an artificial city" and yeah, I have to agree. Of course, this film came out twenty years ago, so of course the special effects are going to be outdated and crappy. I'm sure twenty years from now we'll all have a good laugh over how big the cell phones are in TDK.
If Burton's Gotham looks like a place I wouldn't want to visit, then Schumacher's vision is a city I would avoid at all costs. Good Lord. His Gotham makes Las Vegas look like the small Iowa town where my mom grew up. There are neon lights everywhere and the GCI exterior just looks cheap. Forever's Gotham gave me a huge headache and can you imagine living there? Ugh!
Nolan's Gotham is a real place where real people live. Of course, that's because it's Chicago, but they film it so it's not obviously Chicago and it works. No stupid and cheap made-up Gothams.

Batman/Bruce Wayne: Keaton v. Kilmer v. Bale:
In all three movies, I prefer Bruce Wayne to Batman because I cannot take a grown man in a bat costume seriously and all three actors are way better when playing Wayne. Keaton is charismatic as Wayne but it bugs me he didn't alternate his voice as Batman and the delivery of the line about "dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight" to the Joker is just awful. Another thing that bugs me is the scene where he's sleeping hanging upside down. There are so many things wrong with that. First of all, Batman is human, not a bat, so WTF? And if he was a bat-human, wouldn't he be sleeping during the day? Duh! And second of all, Vicki Vale was there and saw him; wouldn't she be suspicious? It was just stupid.
Kilmer at least attempt to change his voice as Batman, but he gives off a very metrosexual vibe (perhaps its the nipples on the Batsuit?) as Bruce Wayne as in he wouldn't want to break a nail. With Bale, you could totally see him taking some names and, well, pulling a Bale on them. Now his Batman voice is unintentionally funny but you have to give the guy credit for at least trying. Maybe he should've used his natural accent as Batman, though people would all be "why the f--- does Batman have a British accent?"

The Women: Basinger v. Kidman V. Gyllenhaal:
The love story in the Batman films always seem like filler to me and they're just thrown in there to fill a quota. As photographer Vicki Vale in '89, I thought Kim Basinger looked better with her hair pulled back and wearing glasses then when she was "glammed up" in those ugly pouffy dresses. She has so much hair that it's almost her supporting co-star.

As Chase Meridian, Kidman's role in Forever is pretty much only to seduce Batman and make booty calls and come off as a desperate. See, she's in love with Batman, but Bruce is in love with her (she's his psychiatrist - and whose therapist looks like that anyway? Please!) and she doesn't know her patient is the Caped Crusader. Hijinks!
So of course everyone knows Katie Holmes played Rachel Dawes, Bruce's childhood friend and love interest in Batman Begins, but due to "schedule conflicts" (please, Joey Potter, we weren't born yesterday!), Maggie Gyllenhaal stepped in for her in its sequel. So here are my thoughts about TomKatGate:

I like Maggie, but I found her to be the weakest link in TDK only because I didn't really care for the character of Rachel and found any scenes with her to be boring. While I was semi-spoiled about her death (when I was walking into the theater, I walked past these guys who said, "I can't believe they did that to Batman's girlfriend!" So yeah, it wasn't that hard to figure out something terrible was going to happen to her), and while I felt bad for Bruce, I was kinda glad she was gone from the movie at that point. Oh, well, at least a certain someone's sister played her so I can write hilarious captions like this:

"Hey, didn't I make out with your brother once?"

The Joker: Nicholson v. Ledger
It's the age-old question that's been going on for decades (okay, under two years): who was the better Joker? Who do I prefer? I was a teenager when 10 Things I Hate About You came out, so who do you think? Hey, I don't discriminate...against hot Australians. Okay, I may be a bit biased with my decision. I've always been a Ledger fan (and yes, that was an awful day for me). Plus I can't stand Nicholson and his "oh, I think I'll wear sunglasses and sit in the front row of the Oscars this year even though I'm NOT NOMINATED because I can get away with it because I'm some Hollywood legend." Did you know that he would only be cast as the Joker if only Burton billed him first? Uh, shouldn't the guy playing the MAIN TITLE CHARACTER be billed first? Dude, get over yourself!
But actor preference aside, let's just focus on the acting aspect. Now I have no idea whose Joker is more like the original one (probably Jack's since his is more like a comic-book character), but if I watched a clip from '89 without knowing who played the Joker, I would have said Nicholson in a second. His schtick is he falls in a vat of chemicals and his skin turns white (not burned as you might think) and he has a permanent smile. He kills people by using a cute array of deadly gags like hand buzzers that electrocute and acid-squirting flower pens. He's a happy clown! He likes to twirl his cane and dance to Prince. (WTF, I know). Creepy, yes. Scary, um, not really. He plays it very campy. Now I'm going to get a lot of flack for this, but I really don't see what the big deal about his Joker is and I remember when it was announced Heath was playing the new Joker and everybody was saying he would never do Jack justice and how he was going to suck and ruin the movie. I'm sorry, but if John Lithgow (who was actually considered for the part; I bet he wouldn't have demanded to be filled first!) had played the Joker the EXACT same way as Jack did, nobody would be saying anything about his performance. And now it's funny that people are saying Heath was the better Joker (except for the stubborn Burton fanboys).
Now if I saw TDK and didn't know who played the Joker, I would have never guessed in a million years who it was. (Well, except for the three second he's not wearing make-up, then it's pretty obvious). I think the voice he used (which Entertainment Weekly described as "Al Franken mixed with a nerdish pedophile" - thank you, EW, I couldn't have said it better myself) was the big reason that made Ledger almost unrecognizable. In real life, Heath's voice was like buttah, but his Joker voice is so damn creepy! Now, undoubtedly, he is scarier than '89 Joker, but I would dare say that he is funnier too...and he didn't even have all those cutesy gags. I laughed when he overheard one of his goons describe him as "the crazy clown in the cheap purple suit" and tells him "Oh, by the way, my suit wasn't cheap. You should know; you paid for it." And by the fourth time he asked somebody if they wanted to know how he got his scars, all I could think of was '08 Joker at some dinner party, asking guests that same question and people thinking, Oh, God, not this schmuck again!"
Also, did anyone else think he rigged those detonators on the boats so they would blow up their own boat instead of the other one?
Two Face: Jones v. Eckhart:
In Forever, Two Face is every bit
the comic book caricature
with his "normal" side and his
"wild" side. Not only is his
appearance and suit divided into
two, but also his head-
quarters and he has two, uh,
concubines, I guess: Sugar and
Spice. We never see him as D.A. Harvey Dent, although there
is a quick explanation of how he
turned evil, but I didn't really
understood what happened to him physically.
In TDK, Eckhart doesn't
actually become Two
Face until the third act; we see
him as good guy Dent for the
first two. His Two Face makeup is definitely more gruesome
than Jones'. In
fact, the only thing I would say is not very realistic about TDK (well, besides, some of the Joker's 24-style terrorist activities; seriously, you would need to know some serious access codes to pull off what he does in that movie), is the fact that this man is walking around with half of his FACE burned off right in the open. Even if you lived to survive that, there's no way anybody could go out in the open like that and not get infected. But that said, it is still a Batman movie. I have to give Eckhart props, because even though Heath Ledger steals the movie, he definitely held his own.
Harvey Dent is also featured (in a very small role) in '89 and played by Billy Dee Williams. Burton never got to use him as Two Face, but there was some serious foreshadowing when he reads a letter from Batman at the end of the film and states, "If the forces of evil should rise again, call me." Hmmmmm....he was talking about himself! And speaking of foreshadowing, there was some of that in TDK when Fox tells Bruce that his newest weapon of choice "should do well against cats". Whoever could he be referring to?

The Riddler and Robin:
To get a good sense of Jim Carrey as the Riddler in Forever, take Ace Ventura and the Grinch and smash them together, multiply that by ten and you have the Riddler. Carrey is ridiculously over the top and I have a feeling that Schumacher was encouraging him to be as obnoxious as possible. Unlike '89 and TDK where the villains are feared, I never got that sense with the Riddler or Two Face. They were used more for comic relief, and honestly, they weren't that funny. While I wanted more scenes with the Joker when I watched TDK, the Riddler
couldn't get off my screen soon enough when I watched Forever. Now I've seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so I know Carrey is a capable actor, but man, he is awful
in this. There's even a scene where he says something to Batman, then asks, "What that over the top?" YES! Yes, it was!
The real person we should feel sorry for, though, in this
movie (after all, Carrey laughed
his way to the bank), is Chris O'Donnell. Not only did he have to play the useless Robin (who is
Batman's answer to Scrappy-Doo), but he is the only one from this film who went on to be in
the even worse Batman and Robin - which I've never seen and never want to judging from the
few clips of it I have seen.

Okay, to wrap things up, because I'm sure nobody is reading
this anymore, I actually preferred
Michael Gough's Alfred in '89 and Forever to Michael Caine's in TDK because with the former
that's the only character I've ever seen him play, so he is
Alfred to me. With the latter, I've seen
Caine in other movies and at award shows, so I just saw
Michael Caine. (Though he did have
some funny lines). Commissioner Gordon is hardly used in
'89 and Forever, but is very much
used in a great storyline in TDK and Gary Oldman is right
behind Ledger and Echkart in terms
of performance.

Why so...Sirius?

Somehow my font keeps changing and and I have no idea why and this review is going to look really messed up and I'm about to go all Christian Bale on this stupid site, so I better wrap this up. Anyway, here is my final evaluation of the movies:
Batman: See it if only for it's a classic and it did jump start the whole franchise (which is a good and bad thing). And if you don't compare Nicholson's Joker to Ledger's, he's not entirely that bad. I still think Lithgow would have make a better '89 Joker, though.
Batman Forever: This movie sucks. Don't see it if you haven't already.
The Dark Knight: This movie is awesome and if you haven't already seen it, you must live under a rock. There's a reason this movie made a boatload of money: because everyone and their grandma went to see it...multiple times!